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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

MT Utility Regulators Win Legislative Struggle With NorthWestern Energy

Montana Capitol, Helena, MT.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol.

Montana's utility regulators won a drawn out legislative struggle with the state’s largest utility today. A bill preventing NorthWestern Energy from passing on some its costs to customers cleared the Senate. Amid heavy lobbying by the Montana Public Service Commission and NorthWestern Energy, the PSC swung just enough votes their way to pass their key legislative proposal of the session. House Bill 193 looked dead as recently as last week. It failed to pass out of a Senate committee in March, and then last week a vote to blast it onto the Senate floor failed, too.

Tuesday, a second blast attempt succeeded by a single vote. And on Wednesday, the Senate as a whole passed the bill, sending it to the governor’s desk.

The bill’s sponsor Democrat Tom Woods from Bozeman says the bill would limit NorthWestern Energy from passing some costs on to ratepayers, and require the company to take on more risk for its business decisions, protecting customers.

“Passing this bill can only help in the future for the customers of NorthWestern Energy, in  terms of keeping their rates down," Woods says.

The all-Republican Montana Public Service Commission, in charge of regulating utilities in the state, unanimously supported the bill. NorthWestern Energy opposed the bill, saying state regulators already have the authority to reject proposals by the company to pass some of its costs.

If House Bill 193 receives the governor’s signature, it would reduce the cost of buying market electricity  NorthWestern can pass on to ratepayers by 10 percent.

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